il portale dell'ebraismo italiano

Lines of Descent

delllaroccaBy Roberto Della Rocca*

The passages of the Torah that narrate the “toledot” — i.e. the lineages — of Isaac (Gen. 25:19) and of Jacob (Gen. 37:2) are both preceded by the “toledot” of their respective brothers, Ishmael (Gen. 25:12) and Esau (Gen. 37:1). The manner in which the Torah relates these pairs of “toledot”/stories is markedly different and asymmetrical. In the “toledot” of Ishmael and Esau — which precede chronologically those of the Patriarchs — the Torah presents a family tree, a kind of family certificate. By contrast, the “toledot”/stories of Isaac and Jacob are characterized from the beginning by fraternal conflict and life choices. These are stories which require interpretation; we must not be fooled by appearances or superficial readings. The Hebrew language, which lacks an exact synonym of our word “history” (from the Greek “istoria,” meaning “research” or “inquiry”) prefers the term “toledot” (meaning “stories” or “generations”), as if we were dealing with a story constructed along a line of descent, which implies much more than mere biological data.

*Roberto Della Rocca is a rabbi and the Director of the Education Department at the Union of Italian Jewish Communities.
This article was translated from the Italian by Daniel Leisawitz, professor at Muhlenberg College (Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA).